The UK Government finally showed its hand for EU nationals’ status, but rather than a full-hand, it felt more like it was still holding some of its cards behind its back. While EU nationals have been offered some assurance, some remain in a precarious situation, and at risk of removal from the UK through backdoor policies.
BY FIZZA QURESHI
A new status for EU nationals
Last Monday, the long awaited plans for EU nationals rights in the UK were laid out by Theresa May. The plans sought to give some security to EU nationals that were already in the UK, that they would be entitled to ‘settled status’ after five years of residency in the UK. Settled status is essentially indefinite leave to remain, but has been created as a special status to offer some assurances to EU nationals that are already residing in the UK.
The UK also graciously offered those who manage to make it to the UK before the ‘cut-off’ date (somewhere between triggering of Article 50 and leaving the EU), that they will have the opportunity to work towards ‘settled’ status. An in-depth look at the plans can be found here.
However, the worrying prospects of these proposals include, firstly, that everyone will need to reapply for status, so any current permanent residency status will not apply. Secondly, those that do not apply or work towards the ‘settled’ status, will automatically become undocumented, and at risk of removal from the UK, and will become further wounded by the ‘hostile environment’.
Backdoor policies removing EU nationals
Unrelated to Brexit, some EU nationals over the past year have been facing a precarious situation on their right to stay in the UK anyway. Those EU nationals that have been found sleeping rough, or working in low paid roles have been targeted for ‘administrative removal’. The Home Office believes it is an ‘abuse’ or ‘misuse’ of EU Treaty rights to sleep rough, and routinely issues notices of removal to EU nationals. ONS figures for Jan to March 2017, showed an alarming rise in the number of EU nationals who were forced to leave the UK by the Home Office, with a 27% year on year increase (5,230 people being removed, where the figure was 4,113 in Jan-March 2016). Of course, EU nationals issued with removal notices do not have access to legal aid to contest this, and face a re-entry ban of one year.
Using backdoor policies to remove EU nationals in an attempt to reduce net migration is being challenged both in the UK, and at an EU level. Campaign group NELMA with Public Interest Law Unit at Lambeth Law Centre have been granted permission in the High Court to judicially review (JR) a Home Office policy seeking to remove EU/EEA Nationals who are rough sleeping. They highlighted a case of Marineta and Teofil, a Romanian couple who were arrested at their sleeping site, and spent nearly a month incarcerated at Yarl’s Wood detention centre: ‘We were released from Yarl’s Wood on February 16th, but they kept our documents and our IDs. Eventually we got a lawyer through NELMA. He sent a letter to the Home Office and got our IDs back. But this was not till May […] three months after we were released from detention. […] We lost five months of our life and lots of money [in potential earnings]. I was close to getting a stable job when they arrested us. Now we feel like we have to start again. We are Europeans. We have the same rights as anyone else, and deserve to be treated like any English person in the same situation. I know it’s to do with Brexit, but this is the wrong way to make people go”.
Until the Judicial Review is heard, there will be a stay on removals from the UK for EU nationals, but caution must still prevail, and EU nationals need to be informed of their rights, while we await the outcome of the review.
This policy is also being challenged at an EU level, through the submission of a complaint by FEANTSA, Praxis and Migrants’ Rights Network arguing that rough sleeping by EU nationals does not amount to an abuse of rights under the EU Citizens’ Rights Directive, and therefore, it is failing to properly implement this Directive. This will hopefully trigger the EU to take a step in holding the UK to account with regards to its policies.
EU nationals leaving of their own accord?
Figures for National Insurance Number (NiNo) registrations were analysed by the Migration Observatory. They found that Eastern and Central European nationals NiNo registrations have already dropped to their lowest since 2004, from 40,000 in 2016 to 26,000 in the first quarter of 2017. This could be describing a situation where EU nationals are talking with their feet.
As the Brexit negotiations progress, and as further conditions are created creating more complications for EU nationals already residing here, it is likely that we will find these numbers decline.
What we must do is show our support for EU nationals who already reside here that we want them to remain as they contribute significantly to our economy, culture, and enrich our society.
Fizza Qureshi is Director of MRN